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As many know, my son John completed suicide 13 years ago, ending his five-year struggle that began with puberty.

Those five years had highs and lows for him. For me it meant worry and fears for him, painful grief after his suicide. I learned it was a mental health matter, that mental health is physical, that substance abuse often is self-medicating, that people (especially guys) resist treatment because of stigma.

In 2004 my involvement with Out of the Darkness Walks and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention began. AFSP is the leading national not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide through research, education and advocacy, and to reaching out to people with mental disorders and those impacted by suicide.

Out of the Darkness Community Walk events are the primary source of funding for AFSP. Billings has had one every year since they began. We thank our business sponsors who give money and help promote in many ways, other businesses and artists who donate wonderful items for the silent auction and fund-raising prizes, volunteers who spend hours with details before and at the walk, and all of you who walk, talk about the walk, ask for donations, and donate. This includes high school Key Clubs, Montana State University nursing students, Rocky Mountain College students, churches, families who grieve someone to suicide, people with depression, sponsoring company employees, and many others. Please go to the Billings Walk webpage, see the list of sponsoring companies and “give back” with your business.

We all benefit from the research, education and other work of AFSP. More than 85 percent of donations go for research and programs. Not many not-for-profits use so little for administrative costs. And our Montana Chapter AFSP can use half of what we raise in Montana Walks.

Suicide is not a character flaw or the result of bad parenting or bad marriage. Ninety percent of suicides are due to depression or other treatable mental illness. There’s a physical cause for mental illness, causing deep pain and hopelessness that feels unendurable. The person wants to end that pain and doesn’t know it’s treatable.

We all can help raise awareness and reduce stigma about seeking treatment for the illness.

Joan Nye is Billings Walk Out of the Darkness coordinator.

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